Movie: Saving Mr. Banks
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Review: It is 1961, and for 20 years Walt Disney has been pleading and negotiating with author P.L. Travers so he can make a movie about Mary Poppins. At last, due to fiscal constraints, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) agrees to fly to California to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his Mary Poppins creative team to see if a deal can be made. However, Travers is not especially eager to consummate this deal and give up her rights to the book. Upon boarding the plane to the U.S., she tells herself, “I hope we crash”….
Upon getting to her luxury suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, she finds the rooms chock full of Disney stuffed animals, fruit baskets and other goodies. Singularly not amused, the stuffed animals are abruptly stuffed in a closet, and a war of wills is commenced between Travers and the world of Disney. The next morning Travers strides into Walt Disney’s office and receives his most effusive welcome, where he gushes “I love Mary Poppins. You’ve got to share her with me!” Walt’s enthusiasm soon wilts under Travers’ relentless demands for control of her intellectual property, and her opinion that an agreement is impossible. After Travers’ departs his office, Disney’s bewildered reaction is a single word: “Damn”!
The reason for P.L. Travers’ rudeness and imperious behavior is the crux of the whole movie. We are soon treated to a number of flashbacks of the young girl, about age 10, who adores her doting father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell). Father and daughter have an idyllic relationship, and her whole world revolves around their time together. Unfortunately, growing up in the Australian Outback in 1906, times were not always easy for the Goff family. Goff is a bank manager, and probably is not well suited for the life. His daughter actually saves him from being fired when she shows up for their ice cream day. Suffice it to say there are numerous flashbacks detailing bittersweet recollections of her father, and their struggles for a happy life together.
The memories of her childhood appears to be a driving force behind P.L. Travers actions, and the dictatorial persona that she hides behind when dealing with the modern world. Unfortunately, Walt Disney does not know how to get past the barriers that P.L. Travers puts up, as she rams her demands down the throats of the Disney staff. Her insistence that there will be no animation in the movie, and no color red are but a few of her directives. And woe to the young woman who thoughtfully brought in a cake to the office shaped like Mickey Mouse, only to have Travers immediately push it back out the door.
Late in the film, all appears hopeless as P.L. Travers departs for London. I will leave it to the viewer to see how Walt Disney breaks through the defenses of the Mary Poppins author, and finally secures the rights to the movie.
It is not often to see a movie that has a well written script with such tour de force acting jobs from Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. The development of the story along with discovering the inner workings of the characters was a real pleasure. It is difficult to fathom how Hanks, and especially Thompson, were not in contention for Oscars with this film. It is rare to leave a theater and want to think back on a film to squeeze more of the meaning out of it, but this is one that will stay with you.
Actor to Watch: Not a newcomer by any means, but Paul Giamatti steals every scene that he is in as Ralph, the limo driver.
Dialogue Nuggets: Emma Thompson’s character has most of the bon mots. I especially liked her weary entrance to the Disney office one morning by greeting the creative staff with a sardonic, “What horrors do you have for my musical characters today”?
Post Credits Stuff: At the end of the film while the credits are rolling, pay attention to the old tape recordings of an actual discussion P.L. Travers had with the Disney people during one of their work sessions.